Coming from developers 1CC games comes a new entry in the popular bullet-hell, retro styled shoot-em-up genre – a game which goes by the name of Star Hunter DX. Featuring the usual throwaway story, the usual screens full of projectiles to dodge and the usual end of level bosses, it appears that this doesn’t bring much to the table that is new or shocking. There is a twist however, in that the spaceships our heroes fly have the ability to control time, slowing it down to make surviving that bit easier.
The story may be throwaway, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t cover it here. Luna Starr is a former Space Pirate captain, whose crew rebelled and threw her out on her ear without so much as a by your leave. Well, Luna isn’t the sort of woman to take this lying down, and is now a fully fledged bounty hunter. And guess who she’s going to be hunting down? That’s right, her former crew over six stages of carnage. She has a serious score to settle too – and it is that which sets the scene.
First of all, let’s examine the way the game looks. The cutscenes that play out when Luna meets her former crew mates have a very particular graphical style; one that appears to have been lifted directly from the Saturday morning cartoons I remember back in the 1980s. You know, things like Battle of the Planets and cartoons of that ilk, where the dialogue was always expressed by close ups of the two characters speaking and so on. So straight away, there is a nice warm feeling of nostalgia.
In game, the graphics are properly retro, almost 16-bit in style, like the finest games that graced the SNES back in the day. The ship is pleasingly pixelated, the enemies are likewise, and when the bullets start flying, well, let’s say that the early consoles may have struggled with the amount of things whizzing about. Bullet-hell is not a misnomer in this case, and there are certainly more bullets than you can shake a stick at. The sound is all pleasing as well, laser effects and exploding spaceships all working very well. So far, so good in the presentation stakes.
But what about the gameplay? After all, it’s all very well looking great, but what if it’s all a bit dull to play? Well, there are no worries there either. There is only a choice of Luna in the beginning, although you can unlock other characters to play as by progressing through the game. Cat-99, a cat type robot, is a personal favourite, as the bullets from their ship track enemies and leave you free to concentrate on dodging; something which is pretty much a full time job.
So, enemies come from the right of the screen and fly towards you, and you need to destroy them all, get to the end of the stage, defeat the boss and then get home in time for tea and medals. Easy, right? Well, in a word, no, and in slightly more words – hell no! It’s not only the graphics that have come from the early days of arcade games, it’s also the difficulty. Despite having three difficulty levels to go at (Space Cadet, Bounty Hunter and Bullet Hell), even the easiest, space cadet is very hard indeed, and I’ve normally run out of talent by the middle of stage four. As for Bullet Hell mode, well lets just say that the achievement for beating it without continuing will probably never be mine.
Luckily, the heroes we can play as do have an ace up their collective sleeves in the form of Bullet Time. This handy feature allows the bullets to be slowed down, but also has another handy side effect: if you kill an enemy while Bullet Time is active, every bullet they have fired is turned into gold, which can be picked up for a score boost. Obviously, having gold flying at you is preferable to having bullets heading in your direction, and so Bullet Time becomes not only a lifesaver, but also a score booster. There’s always a decision to make too – is it best to use it when the screen is full of bullets, or save it for the bosses? Only experience will tell.
Other mechanics are interesting as well, as every enemy you shoot and kill gives you energy towards filling the Bullet Time Gauge, yet you also have the three traditional smart bombs that not only damage enemies, but also turn any bullets caught in the explosion into energy; again it can be a lifesaver when you are overwhelmed. It is possible to earn extra bombs when they have been used by “shaving” the enemies projectiles, which charges the bomb gauge and gives extra ordinance, assuming you don’t misjudge it and take a missile to the face. Not that that happened, you understand…
Are there any downsides to Star Hunter DX? Well, not really. The difficulty is proper old skool hard, but you kind of expect that in a game like this, and it isn’t a surprise. Other than that, this is a love letter to the shooters of yesteryear and works very well. It’s fast, the controls are up to snuff, and the bullets have patterns to them, so there is usually a way to survive, albeit by the skin of your teeth. If you are looking for a real challenge, you could do a lot worse than try Star Hunter DX out.
Star Hunter DX is available on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S from the Xbox Store